Sunday, May 07, 2006

Here is my India Sermon for Easter the photos follow;

Tsunami Resurrection
Matthew 28 1-10

The heat had been the most unbearable thus far on our trip. After two nights and days on a two tier (supposedly air-conditioned) compartment on one of India’s famous rail lines sleeping across from bunk mates we had been unable to communicate with – we disembarked in the city of Chennai formally called Madras. Our guide helped us find our way to a waiting taxi which he had arranged beforehand. The blast of south eastern Indian air blew through us as if a furnace door had been opened. As we settled into the back seat of one of those classic white Indian Ambassadors – Donna quickly rolled up the window waiting for the relief of its air-conditioning. Just as her window was sealing shut our driver sent word through our translator that this was now a non A-C vehicle and I watched Donna melt into the seat.
But we were on a mission – and while we were living in the south west of India we had added onto our trip back from North India a trip down through the heartland of the country through states like Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra to the east coast of Tamil Nadu to the City of Chennai because we were looking for a resurrection. And like those disciples of Jesus day we would be willing to wake up early – forgo sleep and travel great distances to witness to the fact that resurrection does happen.
We had attended the funeral – we all did – you and I together a year earlier – the death happened at Christmas – we had called it a Christmas Tsunami. Remember? The images were unbearable – the stories horrific. Waves the size of apartment buildings rose with out warning. Their monstrous arms reached out and stole babies from mother’s arms. Its waters swarmed and washed the life out of whole villages. We joined with the world in lament for what had happened to our sisters and brothers in South eastern India, Sri Lanka and the Islands of the Andaman Sea.
Now we were riding through the sun scorched streets of south east India on our way to the coast. It didn’t take long and we could see the Bay of Bengal with its broad white beaches – abandoned both because of the 100 plus heat and the disinterest of most Indians toward sun worship. (There are no such thing as swim suits for women – latter in Goa we would watch the few liberated Indian women bathe in the Arabian sea fully sarried – silk and all. They find our western infatuation for beach bumming to be puzzling at the least and certainly hilarious at best.) At first there was nothing noticeable at all – just plenty of wide and clear stretches of beach front. A small auxiliary road with speed bumps takes you leisurely along the sand – a wider main road follows just in-land a bit and runs parallel. But still nothing but empty beach.
Our guide – who lives in the area had brought along a social worker who had expertise in the disaster – slowly and solemnly he began to explain. Hours after the waves receded he had seen piles of cars and boats all along the far side of the main road – as if the waves had been a great front-end loader in a scrap yard – except there were human bodies amid the rubble.
While still in the city limits of Chennai we stopped at some makeshift tents – the blue plastic poly sheets we know so well in our country are every where in India – even before the storm. There were just a few huts right along the side walk – palm and coconut branches propped together with the blue coating over top. These were the homes of a few of the people who either refused to leave their land for resettlement or who had fallen between the cracks of services – as often happens in any disaster such as this. I began to realize that before the great waves there had been homes on these beaches – children played and mothers hung out wash and families slept here – here where there was nothing now but empty beach and a few ramshackle reminders of a former life.
The same was true for miles and miles until we had left Chennia and its outlying area. We began to see villages of thatched, one room structures all in neat rows – the first few were already abandoned as their inhabitants found more permanent structures and new places far away from the reach of any future angry waves.
Modern ghost towns which in this case announced good news, for the most part, that new life had taken root.
It wasn’t much further before we saw areas that had yet to be as fortunate. We drove down into one settlement along a sand road strewn with large rocks and piles of old bricks. The huts also in neat rows like a camp meeting of sorts – each with their own small fire ring in front – some aluminum pots boiling rice – Hindu chalk drawings served as welcome mats for the gods – old women fussed with pails and wash – old men looked on and tried to find a way to bear the heat. Mothers with young children carried large pots of water from the well on their heads with children clinging to their skirts.
As we moved further into the settlement toward the water we began to see what the storm had done…. huge piles of bricks lay broken in heaps upon what was probably at one time their foundations. Cows wandered aimlessly between piles – crows picked at scraps – the sun baked the whole mess. Then we saw the Ocean – it looked so serene – blue green gentle waves – it was hard to imagine it capable of such a violent schizophrenia.
As we walked the beach we saw rows and rows of brightly colored fishing boats – we saw nets drying – we saw women and men carrying huge buckets of small silver fish on their heads and children laying them out to dry on any smooth surface. We saw what we had come for – we saw resurrection. New life was rising like the first spring flowers after the dead of winter. It was coming – slowly out of the fear of people who had felt the waters of death come upon them. We stopped to talk to one old woman who seemed to offer a friendly smile – she had been there – and she in her old age was frightened to move back closer to the shore line as the government was demanding. She told us how she would rather stay in the settlement than to move back out along the shore. The social worker with us told how the schools in the camps teach songs to the children with lyrics to encourage them not to be frightened. The fear will remain for a long time. But the seeds of hope had been planted – aid from governments and from simple people like us had brought new boats, new wells and slowly new homes in order to build new lives and new communities.
I’m going to tell you that this was not the most powerful event we experienced in India – there was one other which we will tell about in due time – but not today – I want to give full attention to this experience this morning and bring some closure to the loop we started that fateful Christmas which just seems so right to tell on Easter. I’ve had plenty of time to think about it all - that’s for certain.
The first thought I had as I reflected on this Tsunami Resurrection which may help us understand our own experiences of resurrection is that we all have a need to race to the tombs in our lives looking to find hope - to find life in the midst of our encounters with death. That’s what Donna and I were doing in south east India and that’s what Mary and the other women were doing in the dawn of Easter Sunday.
Let’s look briefly at three details of the story as we find in Matthew’s account.
First, the stone was rolled away – not to let Jesus out, but to let us in. I say this because the idea that God rolled away the stone from the door in order to let Jesus escape is just inconsistent with the resurrection story. If we remember back, we can recall how Jesus suddenly appeared in the midst of his disciples – even when they were behind closed doors. Closed doors never kept Jesus in or out.
Matthew makes that clear in today’s reading. It was after Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had come to the tomb that “there was a great earthquake, and an angel of the Lord rolled away the stone and sat upon it.”
For centuries the curious have always wanted to look into the dark depth of death – but the tomb has been sealed in secrecy. The tomb has always troubled us. It has always stood as the “dead-end” of all our efforts to look beyond this life into the life to come.
The angel tells the two women on the first Easter morning to look inside the tomb saying to them: “Do not be afraid, I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; He has been raised …….as He said. Come, see the place where he lay.”
Easter rolls the stone door of the tomb for us so that we might move beyond the mystery of death. It makes the tomb a tunnel – a tunnel into the heart of the eternal and shows us that the heart of God is Love. God rolls the door of the tomb away, not to let Jesus out – but to let us in – to allow us to see that Christ’s promises are true.
Second – the tomb isn’t completely empty. Christ’s body isn’t there – but the place is filled with the words of the angel – the words we just heard – the words that say: “Look – He is not here – He is risen.” The words that continue on saying: “Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples – He has been raised from the dead and is going ahead of you to Galilee – there you will see Him.” If the women on that first Easter morning had looked into an empty and silent tomb – then our resurrection faith would be a belief based on human speculation – an assumption of the moment – an argument based on negative evidence.
Our faith is based on a word spoken to us by God – a loving word from a loving God. It’s based on God’s promise – a promise to Christ before He died – spoken by an angel on the first Easter Sunday.
That same word that echoed and re-echoed in the Easter tomb – still fills the emptiness of the world today. “He is risen!” The tomb has become a trumpet proclaiming the victory of life over death and the continuation of Christ’s presence and mission in this world.
The third detail is this – because of Easter we can turn our backs on the grave. Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary – having heard the angelic assurance: “He is risen!” – turn their backs on the grave and ran “with great joy” to tell the disciples.
Christ was buried – but He wouldn’t stay dead. The tomb couldn’t hold him – and because of Him – the tomb cannot hold us nor even the power of death in a tsunami. Our tsunami pilgrimage taught us that resurrections don’t always come in three days. It may take a generation before wholeness comes to the Tsunami zone and it may take us years to become comfortable with the Easter hope we are given because of the power of the grief we have encountered. But the Good News of Christ’s Easter is that hope will come. And sometimes resurrections in this world come through hands and hearts like our own. That’s what happened in the tsunami zone – people from around the world have worked to bring new life to one of the most powerful events of death in the last decade. The promise – if we are brave enough to receive it is that life will come again.
This is what Jesus promised to us before He died – a promise that seemed at the time totally incredible – a matter – at best – of metaphor – and hyperbole – but which - because of the first Easter morning – we now know to be fact in substance.
The stone was rolled away from the tomb – not to let Jesus out, but to let us in – to show that death is not the end – but a new beginning. A beginning that proclaims the victory of life over death and which allows us to turn our backs on the grave and face our future with faith and hope – confident that all of God’s promises are grounded in Love. Amen.

Harold M. Delhagen


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